The two men – the US president and the British king – waited decades for their dream jobs, projecting a sense of normality and unity when they finally reached their thrones. They both prefer to leave executive palaces for their respective retreats. And they share a passion for facing threats to the environment.
The men, 80-year-old President Biden and 74-year-old King Charles III, are also united by their challenges. They both face a public that is increasingly suspicious of their institutions. And they both battle skepticism about whether they are the right people to lead the increasingly diverse groups they preside over.
“As older men in the prime of their careers, they have to redefine what it means to be an older person,” said Arianne Chernock, a professor of history at Boston University and a scholar of modern Britain, adding, “They have to find new ways to connect with a younger multicultural generation.”
That common ground will serve as the backdrop for the meeting between the president and the king on Monday at Windsor Castle, near London, where the two are expected to discuss clean energy investment and efforts to combat climate change in developing nations. They are issues that Charles has been warning about since the 1970s and that Mr. Biden has made a central focus of his presidency.
Charles gathered leaders in Glasgow in 2021 to tackle climate change, warning them that “time is up.” Mr. Biden touted the tax, energy and health care bill, which he signed into law last year, as the “biggest step forward on climate ever.”
Sally Bedell Smith, who has written many biographies of the British royal family, said those points of mutual interest could be useful. “Biden, I would imagine, would have a lot of respect for what Charles did and said” on the subject, she noted.
Both also use the issue to connect more broadly with the public and, in Mr. Biden’s case, to galvanize voters.
Mr. Biden has struggled for most of his presidency with low approval numbers. fresh Reuters poll showed he had a 41 percent approval rating, a marginal increase from the lowest level of his presidency but an indicator that voters remain unconvinced, particularly about his economic record.
Charles’ approval ratings have improved since he became king. He was viewed favorably by 55 percent of respondents in a recent poll by the market research firm YouGov. But that makes him only the fourth most popular member of the royal family, following his son and heir, Prince William; his sister, Princess Anne; and his daughter-in-law, Catherine, Princess of Wales.
Mr. Biden and Carlos spent decades under the unforgiving glare of the public eye, finding respite in the familiar.
Mr. Biden flees the White House most weekends for one of his houses in the beach town of Rehoboth Beach, Del. The king is said not to particularly like Buckingham Palace. He and Queen Camilla live in the more comfortable Clarence House when they are in London and spend weekends at Highgrove, his country retreat in Gloucestershire.
They have a common bond in struggle. Mr. Biden, who has navigated a stutter since childhood, said he was inspired by the movie“The King’s Speech”, which featured the efforts of Charles’ grandfather, King George VI, to overcome similar speech problems.
Charles and the president also faced increased scrutiny over their complex relationships with their youngest sons. Mr. Biden’s opponents have seized on Hunter Biden’s plea deal on two felony tax charges to attack the president. The king’s relationship with Prince Harry has been in the spotlight since Harry and his wife Meghan stepped down from royal duties in 2020.
“They have to do that job of being a father in an often public and conspicuous light,” said Ms. Chernock, the history professor.
The president and the king tend to break from their prepared messaging. Mr. Biden recently called Xi Jinping, the top leader in China, a “dictator” even as his secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, traveled to the country to try to smooth strained relations with Beijing.
While the royals are expected to stay out of politics, the king’s political views have sometimes gotten him into trouble. After Charles attended the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, a London newspaper published extracts from a diary in which the king wrote about goose-stepping Chinese soldiers and described the Chinese officials at the ceremony as “terrible waxen”.
But the two men are also different in important respects.
The president is chatty and extroverted, while the king is more contemplative and reserved. In his younger days, Charles was awkward and shy, apparently ill-suited for public life. After decades of royal tours and receiving lines, he has become adept at the art of small talk, although he is not the natural cheerleader that Mr. Biden is.
Charles’s intellectual pursuits can sometimes seem outlandish. A voracious reader and self-taught, Carlos delved into subjects such as architecture, organic farming and conservation. He once proudly revealed that his Aston Martin sports car was still running biofuel made from excess white wine and cheese waste.
By contrast, Mr. Biden has a 1967 Corvette that runs on gas and often tries to relate to the working class by recalling his days commuting to Washington on the Amtrak.
The king is expected to abide by the traditions of the British monarchy, which Mr. Biden has repeatedly refused to follow. Mr Biden twice refused to bow before the king’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on his mother’s advice. “Don’t bow down to her,” she told him, according to his memoir “Promises to Keep.” (It is no requirement that one should bow before the monarch – although many people follow the tradition as a courtesy.)
During Mr. Biden’s four visits to the United Kingdom since he became president, there has often been an underlying tension.
In March, Mr Biden made a brief stop in Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement before heading to Ireland for a much more leisurely tour of his ancestral roots. (As the London papers grumbled, Mr. Biden also has English roots.)
Mr Biden did not attend Charles’ coronation in May, sending his wife, Jill, and their grandson Finnegan. When he called the king to send his condolences and offer congratulations, Charles invited the president to visit Britain, setting the stage for Monday’s meeting, which US officials are calling a “mini state visit”.
Even the logistics for this trip were not without some static. The White House initially questioned the need for a stop at 10 Downing Street with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, according to an official familiar with the planning, as the two men will meet at the NATO summit in Lithuania a day later. For Mr. Sunak, however, shaking hands with the president in front of his residence is politically valuable, and the White House finally agreed to it.
The White House also gave in to the king’s request to welcome Mr. Biden at Windsor Castle, west of London, rather than at the more conveniently located Buckingham Palace. The palace is undergoing a multi-year renovation, and the official, told The New York Times that the king did not want Mr. Biden to see a construction site.
Asked about Mr Biden skipping the coronation, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, dismissed any notion that there was tension between the US and Britain. (Historians point out that Dwight D. Eisenhower did not attend the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth.)
“It is important that the president will go there, and he will have a meeting with not only the king, but also the prime minister,” said Ms. Jean-Pierre. “That’s what you’ll see: continued partnership with Britain.”
Those who have observed the relationship between the White House and the Royal family said the common ground shared by Charles and Mr Biden was likely to ensure a cordial meeting.
“They’ve both been to this rodeo many times,” Mrs. Bedell Smith said.